Questions and Chaos

Life in the 21st Century

Life in the 21st Century

Friday, July 27, 2007

When I read commentary on current affairs I wonder if I am the only person excited about being alive in the 21st century. Thirty years ago 2007 existed in a future that I couldn’t imagine. Prospects looked bleak, if they existed at all.

The invention of the nuclear bomb and rapid acceleration of technology had created a frightening view of the future. The media talked endlessly about an immanent nuclear holocaust. The church was preaching the coming of the end of the world. I had nightmares about fireballs rolling across the horizon. I worried about surviving nuclear winter.

In school, we studied the book, 1984by George Orwell. In the “future” of 1984 humanity lived a grim existence controlled by the surveillance of thought police. Cameras and microphones monitored all movement and every conversation.

The movie 2001 Space Odyssey featured an independent minded super computer that killed people to maintain its control. It was thought that computers would soon surpass human intelligence. Having a superior intelligence suggested that they might have the ability to enslave us. (Today, anyone who has tried to get Microsoft Word to change an I to an i is not worried.) Here we are in 2007. The sun is still shining, the grass is still growing and the end of the world didn’t happen. Certainly civilization faces challenges in this century. However, when we look back through history, was there ever a better time to be alive?

We have conveniently forgotten there was a time in human history when people ate their enemies. Three hundred years ago, North Americans were going to Africa to steal slaves. Now North Americans are going to Africa to provide medicine for AIDS, drill wells, build orphanages and adopt children. Thirty years ago, I remember hearing that women shouldn’t work in sales because they couldn’t travel and stay in hotels all alone. Now a woman can command the space shuttle and no one argues about it.

The population explosion, increased travel, economic globalization and the internet have created the beginnings of a global consciousness for the first time in human history. Issues such as nuclear proliferation and global warming are making people realize that we are all in this together. Human beings are beginning to understand that we cannot murder and pillage other societies without hurting ourselves. In a global society all tribes and ethnicities are forced to interact. “Don’t talk to strangers” is no longer applicable. In a global society there are no strangers.

Paul Hawken, long time environmentalist, entrepreneur and author has written a new book about the changes happening in global culture titled Blessed Unrest. In his talk about the book (well worth listening to) he describes how over the years he had accumulated business cards from environmental and social justice organizations. He found himself wondering just how many such organizations there are in the world and discovered that no one had compiled this information. As he researched for himself he found 30,000, then 70,000, then 100,000 organizations and the numbers continued to grow. Currently, he estimates there are between one and two million organizations dedicated to social justice and environmental issues. If you were to scroll the names down a TV screen, like movie credits, they would run twenty-four hours a day for four weeks. These organizations are spread throughout the world, across every tribe, culture and class.

Each organization has its own particular mission but their missions don’t contradict each other. Whether they are working for access to water, for workers’ rights, for sustainable housing, to protect forests or for the right to read, they are all working to make the world a safer and healthier place. A database of organizations is being compiled at In the past all social movements, such as political and religious ideologies, have started with a leader and become more fragmented as they grew through time. This is a movement that began fragmented and is growing together as independent parts of a larger network. Hawken sees these organizations functioning as a global immune system, each doing its part for the greater good.

If organizations for social change are not readily visible, then the work of individuals is even less visible. For every individual who joins an organization there are many others who are quietly applying these principles to their own lives. Individuals in every country and culture focusing on the greater good as they earn their living and care for their families.

News reports and commentary focus on the problems and challenges facing the world. Poverty, war, terrorism, and environmental destruction can be seen as the illnesses of the world. Just as we are unaware of our immune system at work, we are unaware of the millions of people who are creating, nurturing, healing, protecting and growing to make the world a wiser and healthier planet.

Without a leader and without a guidebook, individuals across the planet have embraced the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

That is exciting!



Comment by Peggy

August 2, 2007 @ 8:52 am

Hey Helga
Thanks for this, what a lovely positive perspective on the present and future. I am going to send this to Marya who has quite a negative view of the state of the world, although she is working to make changes. This strengthens my resolve to continue doing what I do and to look for other ways to make the change I want to see.
See you soon.


Comment by Peggy

August 9, 2007 @ 12:00 pm

Hi Again
I just listened to Paul Hawken’s talk at Google. Very interesting. I’m going to request his book, it sounds like a must read. Also I’m going to check out Gore Vidal’s “Creation”. Have you read it?


Comment by Stephanie

August 13, 2007 @ 4:41 am

I think more people of my generation need to read something like this. We weren’t around when people thought the world was going to end and we take what we have for granted. So many people I know see only the negative and feel like everything is just getting worse and worse. But what you said about people becoming more aware that we’re in this together really makes sense to me. Global warming is a huge problem but it’s a global problem with hopefully a global solution. It’s pretty cool to think about the whole world working together to solve a problem.


Comment by seeker5

August 16, 2007 @ 4:53 pm

This is a terrific post. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks.


Trackback by Jennifer Hawkins Thong

September 24, 2007 @ 6:09 am

Jennifer Hawkins Thong…

I Googled for something completely different, but found your page…and have to say thanks. nice read….

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